Saturday, January 01, 2011

Walking the tightrope on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

Anita Joshua, The Hindu, January 1, 2011

Civil rights activists are wary of pinning their hopes on an under-pressure government to repeal, or even amend, the controversial laws.
— Photo: AP

Flashpoint:Aasia Bibi’s death sentence has reignited the debate over blasphemy laws, pitting the civil rights activists against the “religious” right-wingers. 

Irrespective of whether she wins the appeal against her death sentence, gets a presidential pardon, or Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are amended, Aasia Bibi is a marked woman. Ironically, more so because of the attention her case has drawn over the past month-and-a-half after a sessions court in the Nankana Sahib district of Punjab sentenced her to death under Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for allegedly making derogatory remarks against the Prophet in an argument with women from her village.
The argument began after two women refused to drink water from a glass Aasia Bibi had touched because, according to them, it had been defiled due to her faith and caste. This was in 2009. In early November 2010 the sessions court announced the death sentence, triggering yet another debate on the dreaded blasphemy laws, which, according to the last report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, had come to haunt even the Muslims as rivals sects of Islam had begun to use the provisions against each other.

Being a Christian, her case, as a lawyer put it, seems to have bothered the conscience of the international community and condemnation from overseas, including the Vatican, was quick to come. President Asif Ali Zardari — himself a member of the minority Shia community — asked the federal Ministry of Minority Affairs to conduct an enquiry. He also constituted a committee under the Minister, calling upon religious experts, intellectuals and others to suggest amendments to the blasphemy laws.

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